WASHINGTON – President Obama has canceled plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of the country’s decision to offer temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked secret information, the White House announced Wednesday.
“Given our lack of progress on issues such as missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security issues, and human rights and civil society in the last 12 months, we have informed the Russian government that we believe it would be more constructive to postpone the summit until we have more results from our shared agenda,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. “Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor that we considered in assessing the current state of our bilateral relationship.”
Obama still plans to travel to Russia in September for the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. But the White House said the Moscow visit would be replaced by a trip to Sweden to discuss trade and investment.
The decision comes just two days before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John F. Kerry are scheduled to meet with their Russian counterparts in Washington. Carney said that meeting would still take place on Friday “to discuss how we can best make progress moving forward on the full range of issues in our bilateral relationship.”
Obama’s decision was quickly praised by one congressional ally.
“President Putin is acting like a schoolyard bully and doesn’t deserve the respect a bilateral summit would have accorded him,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Relations between Obama and Putin were tense even before the Snowden affair. The leaders have clashed over a number of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and most recently Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Putin did not attend when Obama hosted the G-8 summit at Camp David in 2012. The leaders last met in June in Northern Ireland, where their awkward rapport was on display.
Obama’s impatience with Russia showed Tuesday night in a taped interview with Jay Leno on the “Tonight Show.” He told Leno he was disappointed that Russian officials decided to grant temporary asylum to Snowden, who fled to Moscow after he leaked U.S. secrets.
“I was disappointed because even though we don’t have an extradition treaty with them, traditionally we have tried to respect if there’s a lawbreaker or an alleged lawbreaker in their country, we evaluate it and we try to work with them,” Obama told Leno. “They didn’t do that with us. And in some ways it’s reflective of some underlying challenges that we’ve had with Russia lately."
But Obama said the two sides still have things to work on together.
“A lot of what’s been going on hasn’t been major breaks in the relationship,” he said. “But there have been times where they slip back into Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality. And what I consistently say to them, and what I say to President Putin, is that’s the past and we’ve got to think about the future, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to cooperate more effectively than we do.”